Striking a chord

Whether headlining, opening for another act or playing a festival, Moon Taxi gets it just right

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Moon Taxi plays at the Burning Can Fest at the Lyons Outdoor Games on Saturday, June 1. (Photo by Harper Smith)
Harper Smith

To Trevor Terndrup, creativity is a use-it-or-lose-it sort of gift, which helps explain why less than 11 months after the release of Let the Record Play, the breakthrough album by his band, Moon Taxi, he and his bandmates were already at work on their next album.

“You’ve got to keep those juices flowing or else they stop coming,” he observes in a recent phone interview. “So we’re trying to stay as busy as possible, and we still love to play live.”

 Let the Record Play was a watershed album for the Nashville-based group on a few fronts. Most notably, the album’s lead single, “Two High,” became Moon Taxi’s first bona fide hit song, reaching the top of the Triple A Airplay chart and going top five on the Adult Alternative Songs chart.

The exposure “Two High” received has had a very tangible impact on Moon Taxi’s day-to-day existence as a hard-touring outfit.

“I mean, we’ve had great fans for many years now,” Terndrup says. “But it just seems like the fan base has augmented considerably because of the success of ‘Two High’ and because I think it really struck a chord with people and it was what they needed to hear at that time.”

When the song, which is about finding hope and unity in today’s often-contentious times and was inspired in part by the 2017 Women’s March, was written and first released, Moon Taxi was working on a considerably smaller platform than the band is now.

The group’s roots go back to 2002 when high school classmates singer/guitarist Terndrup and bassist Tommy Putnam moved to Nashville to attend Belmont University. There, they met guitarist Spencer Thomson and drummer David Swan, who became the other two members of the original Moon Taxi lineup.

The group didn’t really ramp up their activities until 2006. That’s when Swan left the band and was replaced by Tyler Ritter. With keyboardist Wes Bailey coming on board to complete the revamped lineup, the group released their debut album, Melodica, in April 2007 on their own 12th South Records.

Moon Taxi gradually built a following through extensive touring and appearances at festivals such as Hangout, Coachella and Bonnaroo. Along the way, the band released three more studio albums, got their music placed in commercials and television programming and landed appearances on late night shows like Conan and Late Night with David Letterman — impressive achievements for a group self-releasing music.

“We didn’t do that on our own,” Terndrup says. “We’ve had a great management team and a great booking agent for years. So it does take a village.”

By spring 2017, the group was poised to put out their fifth album, Let the Record Play, on their 12 South label, and that May released “Two High” as a single. Then the unexpected happened, as the song started going viral online, gaining 110 million plays on Spotify alone.

Record companies noticed the online success of “Two High,” and soon Moon Taxi was being courted by a number of labels, including major label RCA, which signed the group and released Let the Record Play in January 2018.

Moving up to RCA was anything but a no-brainer decision for Moon Taxi, Terndrup says.

“It was a tough decision because we were so proud of how we had been self-sufficient and self-reliant, self-producers for so many years,” he says. “And that’s not changing. We are not giving up the creative reins at all, which was what attracted us to RCA, which is they didn’t have a vision to change us. I think they saw the history of the band and the gumption that we’ve exhibited over the years, and they appreciated that and that’s what attracted them to us.”

Moon Taxi is taking breaks from work on the next album here and there this summer to do some festival shows and headlining dates, and have released a pair of new songs, “Now’s The Time,” and “This World,” ahead of the shows. Whether headlining, opening for another act or playing a festival date, Moon Taxi tends to vary its setlist from show to show.

“That’s how we maintain sanity is by changing up the setlist and throwing in some new covers here or there, or like reimagining songs sometimes, like playing snippets of them and not even playing the whole thing or combining them with other songs,” Terndrup says. “That’s always fun. I think it’s rewarding for us because it’s a challenge and it’s rewarding for the audience because they hope we can pull it off. Sometimes we do.”  

ON THE BILL: Moon Taxi. 8:30 p.m. Saturday, June 1, Burning Can Festival at the Lyons Outdoor Games, Bohn Park, 199 Second Ave., Lyons, burningcancolorado.com